The View From the Middle

Students and faculty of the Marquette Law School in the early years of the twenty-first century have the benefit of an affiliation with an institution that most outside observers seem to feel is right smack dab in the middle of the law school pool.  Our US News & World Report overall rating is almost exactly in the middle of the pack, and the American Bar Association reports that we are the 90th most selective of the 184 ABA-approved law schools in the United States. Our current median LSAT score (157) is exactly the median LSAT score for all students enrolled in ABA-accredited law schools, and our median GPA is almost exactly the national median as well. In the peer ratings collected by the US News survey, our score (2.3) is exactly the median for all schools, as is our ranking by judges and lawyers (2.8). (Although our judge and lawyer ranking is higher, it is, like our ranking by law professors, exactly at the median. Apparently, lawyers and judges generally think more highly of law schools than do law professors.)

While no one really likes being exactly in the middle — I also think we are “underrated” — it does offer an interesting perspective on contemporary legal education, particularly in regard to who is studying law and who is teaching law at this point in the history of American legal education. Figuratively speaking, half of the schools are above us and half below us, and all are within sight.

I have had the good fortune to attend two law schools as a student and to teach at five (Marquette, Chicago-Kent, Washington University, Washington & Lee, and the University of Virginia). All five schools at which I have taught are usually ranked among the top half of American law schools, and three of them are usually closer to the top than the middle. My overwhelming impression is that the law school experience is essentially the same at all five schools. The curriculums are virtually identical, and the quality of teaching at all five is equally high. I found students at the University of Virginia to be more academically sophisticated than students at the other four, but I found that the experience of teaching at the other four was quite similar. The biggest differences lie in the placement opportunities, which do vary considerably from school to school.

I would be interested to hear the thoughts of others — students, faculty, and alumni — about the significance of our position in the middle.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Stacie Rosenzweig

    Placement opportunities seem to be a chicken-and-egg thing. A school gets a high ranking because its students go to top firms and federal clerkships because of the school’s high rankings.

    As you said, the actual education doesn’t vary a lot from school to school, and USNWR looks at things like the number of seats and books in the library, and square footage in the building, and how many people can be simultaneously connected to the network. Barring truly sub-par conditions, these things have very little to do with day-to-day quality of eduction. Still, once MULS has its new building, I suspect it’ll experience an uptick in ranking, even with the same professors and same curriculum.

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